There is a statue of George Washington in a place you wouldn’t think he would be. The statue of the first president and leader of the American Revolution stands in Trafalgar Square in London outside of the National Gallery.
The statue was a gift from the state of Virginia in 1921 and commemorated the 300th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Washington is depicted standing with his left hand resting on thirteen rods which represented the original thirteen colonies.
But Washington had once vowed to “never set foot again on English soil.” So to make good on that promise, soil from Virginia was brought in and placed below the pedestal of the statue. The original marble statue of Washington was commissioned in 1794 by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and stands in Richmond, Virginia, at the Virginia State Capitol Building.
The statue was created by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon and is believed to be the most accurate depiction of Washington as it is based on his actual measurements and a cast of his face. While Houdon’s original marble statue is in Virginia, copies of it reside in many places around the globe. In the early 19th century, the statue was copied and cast in bronze by Richmond artist William James Hubard out of fear the original might be destroyed. Eleven bronze casts were placed around the United States.
Another set of copies were made in the early 20th century by the Gorham Manufacturing Company through an act by the Virginia General Assembly. These statues were also placed at various institutions and places up until the late 1930s. One of these was the one that ended up in Trafalgar Square.
It might seem strange that Great Britain would allow a statue of George Washington because of Britain’s defeat in the Revolutionary War, but Washington was actually respected by the British people as well as King George III. King George’s respect for Washington came after Washington resigned after the colonies were granted independence instead of declaring himself the country’s new leader. King George referred to Washington as “the greatest man of the age.”
Copies of Houdon’s statue can also be found around the world. There is one in the town of Saint-Martin-de-Ré on the east coast of France, as well as Barranquilla, Columbia, and Lima, Peru. The statue in Peru was purchased by the Peruvian government and dedicated on July 4, 1921, to pay homage to Washington, whom Peruvian President Augusto B. Leguía called the “Great Liberator of the North.”
Washington isn’t the only U.S. president with a statue in London, however. There are also statues of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan in different parts of the city.
Sources: London Remembers, Military.com, National Gallery, Cambridge Public Library, Archive.org